Thursday, December 10, 2020

Adios Mazatlan: Travel Essay---Mazatlan: Wonderful Tourist Destination or Cultural Sinkhole? & Cab Essay: Understanding Why Taxi Drivers Remain Maligned And Misunderstood

Since writing the following essay, I have explored the city some more, finding I like the downtrodden district surrounding the industrial port better, trucks lined up waiting to deliver their ship-bound containers destined for ports across the wide Pacific.  Passing an open doorway I saw a mother talking to her young child, a small boy in a colorful cotton pajama jumpsuit.  He was cute, a nice memory in a dirty, rubbish strewn part of the city.  Yes, life expressed in all its ways: good, bad and wonderful.

Mazatlan: Who Are You?

After years of traveling and visiting many countries and cities, I've concluded the best way to get know a new location, especially in an unfamiliar city, is to take local buses to where ever they might deliver you because, this being your first visit, in say Mazatlan, it's all new and different and educational---the bus your tutor and guide to much of everything you need to know.  And this past week I did exactly that, jumping on random buses to understand Mazatlan, its culture, its economy and its people, helping me in this quick assessment of a Mexican city extremely dependent upon tourism-based employment and tax base, all structured around one basic local commodity: its miles of splendid sandy beach. 

Once Mazatlan must have been a modest fishing village living off the bounty of the wide Pacific Ocean, the wonderful beach serving as a convenient home for the many small fishing boats still based here, myriad varieties of fish big and small swimming in their nearby watery abodes.  Then someone got the good idea to say, if we build a hotel, people will come to lie on the beach, swim in the ocean and eat all the fish we can deliver.  First one hotel, then a second and a third hotel until, like some crazy Monopoly game board, the beach front, especially in what's called the "Golden Zone," quickly became a kind of over crowded Las Vegas-style, middle-class oriented playground now occupied by towering hotels, sprawling restaurants and more gift shops than ever could be needed, all selling the same products and items up and down the beach.

Upon initially observing the "Golden Zone" from my bus seat, my first appalling reaction was "this is a monstrosity" constructed for no other purpose but extracting money from tourist wallets and purses, finding it beyond ugly, an insult to mind and spirit, insulting the very concept of a rational humanity.  Stepping off the bus before arriving at the marina, I stumbled back hoping to discover something good amidst this modern day ruin.  And I did, noticing a possible entryway to the beach, Mazatlan's shining glory---white sand to kick and run and roll in before chasing the beckoning blue Pacific waves. 

This particular stretch of the beach temporarily ends, abutting a leafy, rocky promontory providing a home for green crabs and small fish caught in temporary pools.  Walking toward the sea-battered and weathered rocks, I discovered a sandy nook allowing me to discretely change into my swimsuit and dip into  oncoming frothy waves.  It was wonderful, suddenly a millionaire enjoying my exclusive hideaway, providing me this assessment: Mazatlan simultaneously a rapturous pleasure and a hideous, cultural eyesore better avoided.     

But since I came here to visit the dentist, I won't complain, and when the coronavirus ends, the garish Bermuda shorts and cheap flip-flops reappearing once again making Mazatlan the paradise it certainly isn't, happy tears crying into flowing buckets of refreshing golden cerveza.  And please beware of bikini-clad American tourists sauntering down those white sand beaches, of course wearing those plastic sandals, meaning that the re-invasion has begun, the thoughtless barbarians thinking little except of themselves and personal pleasure gained.  

Essay: The Maligned Cabbie: The Question is Why

Have you ever been called a "bitch faggot?"  Well, I have, more than once.  What exactly is a "bitch faggot?"  Well, according to some passengers, a bitch faggot is a taxi driver.  How can that be, why would anyone refer to a cabbie in such profane, odd language?  And the answer is quite simple, though why it's an easy answer is not simple because how did a licensed profession, dating back to Oliver Cromwell and London, England 1654 (the 17th Century) become, in the minds of many, a kind of criminal activity?   

Is it because cabbies are criminals, and given any opportunity to overcharge a customer, they will, driving around the block, heading south when the destination is due north?  Some will always think so but gaining an extra dollar or two is not in the cabbie's interest, somehow implying if the driver doesn't steal, there is no money to be made.  But the obvious reality for all professional cabbies is that driving a cab is a money maker, especially if you know what you are doing, knowing your city's roadways and routes, making your passenger happy and you the cabbie just a little bit richer.  For the most part, it is the dumbbell cabbie, not the dishonest driver, who takes the wrong route, which is why the City of London demands that you know their city before you are licensed, famously known as the "Knowledge."

Yes, the knowledgeable cabbie is a good cabbie but why are even 30 year taxi veterans treated like  "thieves in the night?"  From my experience there are at least three probable reasons.  Number one is the reality of when you are sitting in the backseat of the cab, you are vulnerable and reliant upon the driver to get you from point A to B.  While that is also true when sitting in an airplane, unlike a cab where you are 16 inches from the driver, in the airliner you are 30 rows back and aren't in position to think you can tell the pilot what to do.  

The second reason is the never ending mythology that the cabbie is up to no good, which it seems comes from the free-form style of many cabbies, where conducting a U-turn or other such maneuver is commonplace and often necessary but for some observers, providing an unsavory view of the undisciplined cabbie, hence the "crazy cabbie" willing to anything, including stealing from your pocketbook.  Yes, not having a boss glancing over your shoulder does provide a kind of freedom but that doesn't mean it automatically translates into mischief and dishonesty.

A third reason is the misconception that driving a cab is easy, that only the mentally deficient are working beneath the toplight. And since you are "dumb as a brick," this makes you a disreputable human being.  But the reality is different, driving a taxi takes much skill, and as any London cabbie will tell you, you try learning 320 basic routes across London, its 25,000 streets and its 60,000 points of interest.  Ask for the precise route and they will tell you block by block by block from any given point.  Cabbies may be many things but stupid they are not.

And if you are ever in Seattle and lucky enough to get my taxi, go ahead, ask me how to get from 14th East and East Thomas to the corner of NW 80th Street and Earl Avenue NW?  My answer will depend on the time of day and the level of traffic at that particular moment, gauging all the variables before taking off.  

And if you want to be amused, I too can tell you block by block by block the entire route.  How?  Why I got the "Knowledge," the Seattle version that is, but admittedly I don't know all the points of interest, because, frankly, I'm not that interested.

New York Times "Metropolitan Diary"

Directly after writing the above essay, I came across this positive letter about a taxi ride in the "Big Apple."  It had the heading "Short Ride."

Dear Diary,

After hailing a cab one night, I asked the driver to take me to a place that was seven blocks away.

For some reason, I felt compelled to explain I wasn't walking since it was drizzling and also because I wasn't wearing walking shoes.

"No charge," the driver said.

I laughed.

When we got to to where I was going, I asked him how much the fare was.

"I said, no charge," he said.


And that I will say is a typical response from many a cabbie 'round the world.  Me too, I've said it too.  Often I say give me five because the ride is short and a dollar or two more making no different to me but when the passenger is clearly poor or on the streets, I feel asking for more is immoral and wrong, not something I need or want to do.

Seattle Park of the Week

Discovery Park, located on the western side of the Magnolia neighborhood, is a wonderful combination of wooded trails and Puget Sound tide pools.  Part of it is in the old Fort Lawton military base, something now owned by the city of Seattle.  The best I can say about the park is go there and wander the trails.  You will be pleased.  Easy access is to follow West Government Way directly into the park, an entrance providing a real sense on just how large a place it is.  Another good way are the southern entry points off West Emerson Street and the intersections of 40th West, 41st West etc.  Park and enter thought the gaps allowing entry.  It is a great park.  Enjoy, and if you have a dog, romp with that pooch sniffing all the way.




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